City were forced to take the lead three times at Eastlands before finally securing only their second win in 11 games.
Roque Santa Cruz – a man Mark Hughes fought so hard to get from former club Blackburn – scored at the beginning and end of an extraordinary afternoon.
Carlos Tevez and Craig Bellamy also found the net to leave Sunderland empty handed, even though goals from John Mensah and Jordan Henderson had pulled them level from two adrift and Kenwyne Jones had nodded home another equaliser after half-time.
Despite City’s win, rumours are abound that Hughes will be sacked as manager on Saturday evening. Former Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini is believed to be waiting in the wings to take over.